So was it a "pact," or more of an informal agreement?

Controversy continues to stir over the supposed "pregnancy pact" at Gloucester High School.

Published June 24, 2008 1:45PM (EDT)

From the number of e-mail tips we got about the so-called pregnancy pact at Gloucester High School last week, we should have expected that the story -- covered for Broadsheet by Kate Harding -- had legs. Sure enough, the updates just keep coming. The latest? This article from Time magazine that addresses the question of whether there indeed was a "pact" among the teenagers to get pregnant and raise their babies together.

Apparently, after Time reported the story last week and a media shitstorm ensued, the mayor of Gloucester, Mass., Carolyn Kirk, got a little worried about the P.R. implications of having a bunch of teenage girls in her town deliberately get pregnant. Whereas last week's original Time article quoted the school principal, Dr. Joseph Sullivan, as saying that the girls "made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together," this week Kirk is saying that the principal is "foggy in his memory" of how he heard of the pact (and Sullivan declined to comment further). The implication is that he exaggerated, or assumed there was a pact when in fact there was nothing there but, you know, a random quadrupling of pregnancies from one year to the next and a group of teenage girls receiving news of pregnancies with high-fives and plans for baby showers.

If I sound dismissive of Kirk's claim, it's because of other details in the article -- like a June 13 statement from the school superintendent and, yes, the mayor, saying that some of the students appeared to be getting pregnant on purpose, and a quote from the CEO of the school's day-care program saying that the program's on-site social worker had heard of the girls' plan to get pregnant as early as last fall. As Time concludes, "Without comment from any of the pregnant students themselves, it may be impossible to determine exactly what they agreed to, and when ... But what does seem clear based on Time's reporting is that some of the girls in question did at least discuss the idea of getting pregnant at the same time, and that too little was done to educate the girls on the potential ramifications of that choice."

Much of the media attention over the story so far has focused on whether the school should provide better access to contraceptives or, in the case of this story, whether the pact was really a pact or just an informal plan. (I'm not exactly sure what the difference would be in results, babywise.) To me, though, the most important issue seems to be the last part of Time's conclusion. You've got a group of girls identified by the day-care center's CEO as being "socially isolated" teens who "don't have the support of their families" and have turned to pregnancy as a way to find companionship, a purpose and supposedly unconditional love. The question we should be asking is what the school could do to teach its students -- present and future -- that becoming a young, single mother is not usually the ticket to a better life.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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